Cocos Keeling Islands
The people of Cocos Keeling Islands are a unique blend of Malay people from places like Bali, Timor, Sumatra, Malacca and Penang. Apparently an English sea-merchant Alexander Hare brought Malay women to Cocos for his harem and as slaves. John Clunies-Ross then established himself as feudal master to the Cocos Malay people who worked on the coconut plantations to produce Copra. In 1984 the Cocos Malay people voted under UN sponsorship of self-determination to become Australians.
Cocos Keeling is a cluster of coral islands that form an atoll with two inhabited islands on either side called Home Island and West Island. Home island houses around 450 Cocos Malay people, while West island has a small number of expatriate Australians. People travel by ferry between the islands each day to go to school or work, while weekends are spent fishing on home-made Jukong wooden boats, surfing the reef break, or camping on the smaller islands.
These days the Cocos Malay people live a peaceful island life with shared produce gardens, some residual banana plantations and a chicken farm. There are a few industrious individuals who sell locally produced salt, coconut oil (for cosmetic use) and giant clam shells to international collectors. People still live off what they can find both on land and sea, although it does mean land crabs and booby birds are scarce compared to the populations sustained on Christmas island.
The houses on Home Island have an interesting layout with the living room and bedrooms in one building at the front of the property. Then a roofed outdoor area is framed by two out-buildings, one for storage, such as over-sized refrigerators for meat and fish, and the second for the kitchen. As you would find often in Asia, cooking is done outdoors so that odours and oil don't enter the home. The roofed outdoor area extends further back beyond the outhouses so that there is space to store the boat, buggy and spears.
Flights to Cocos islands are on the same circuit as Christmas island departing from Perth. Tourist and holiday accommodation is limited to small bed and breakfasts.
The islands are sandy white beaches with clear blue water and picture perfect palms and banana plantations. There's a snorkelling site called the Rip beside Direction island where you are pulled along beside huge bump-head parrot fish, wrasse and white tipped sharks, with more sedate snorkelling at Pulu Maraya fish-bowl has porcupine and angelfish. The plethora of manta-ray and turtles make Cocos islands heaven for ocean-lovers.